Tag Archives: new york

Building Seagram

Building Seagram by Phyllis Lambert
Yale University Press, 2013
Hardcover, 320 pages

In lieu of one of the many iconic photos of the Seagram Building at 375 Park Avenue (between East 52nd and East 53rd Streets) in Midtown Manhattan, this book by Phyllis Lambert (the daughter of Seagram's founder Samuel Bronfman) is covered with a photo of the building's construction. The photo reveals four phases of the 35-story tower's construction—from open steel at the top to glass enclosure at the base—as well as the plaza that fronts the building on Park Avenue. Yet this account of the 1958 building designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe with Philip Johnson is about so much more than the its physical realization.

Lambert goes into depth on how the Seagram company commissioned Mies (of course Lambert played the most important role in this) as well as Philip Johnson's contribution to the lighting and design of the interiors and landscape, the art housed inside the building, the impact the project had on the city, how the masterpiece has been preserved, and much more. Above all, Lambert emphasizes how the building and plaza are one; they are two interrelated parts of the project, not separate entities. As anybody who has experienced the building can attest, the space on Park Avenue practically makes the Seagram Building what it is.

On starting the book I knew it would be a rewarding read, having come to it after just about every publication—architecture and otherwise—reviewed it. But they didn't prepare me for how good the book actually is, how even the most apparently mundane details (fashioning the dies for the bronze curtain wall, the taxes levied on the building and eventual sale of the building 20 years after completion, for example) are fascinating. This arises from Lambert's thorough yet accessible writing but also the way she treats every detail as important, perhaps an inadvertent hommage to the architect who said, "God is in the details."

Given that Lambert worked on the project for five decades, she tells a story that nobody else can. Along the way my appreciation for the building (one I've always liked but never to the extent of, say, Herbert Muschamp, who called it "the millennium's most important building") expanded greatly. Every building is the result of choices being made and forces acting upon it by a litany of people and entities (not to mention nature itself), but that the Seagram Building and plaza achieved a sort of mid-20th-century perfection is astounding. Lambert calls the project the result of "unlikely convergences, extraordinary coincidences, and ironic turns," and we are better off for her ability in conveying these events in such an eloquent manner.

US: Buy from Amazon.com CA: Buy from Amazon.ca UK: Buy from Amazon.co.uk

“Building Like Moses with Jacobs in Mind”

"Building Like Moses with Jacobs in Mind": Contemporary Planning in New York City by Scott Larson
Temple University Press, 2013
Paperback, 198 pages

In a little less than three months New Yorkers will go to the polls to elect the successor to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who will complete his third term at the end of the year. In Bloomberg's 12 years in office he has had a major impact on the physical state of the city, from the completion of 2/3 of the elevated High Line park in West Chelsea and the continued transformation of formerly industrial waterfronts into parks and residential uses, to the rezoning of parts of the city (such as that around the High Line) to allow more bulk and the start of large-scale projects he's steered, such as Hudson Yards, Atlantic Yards, and Columbia's expansion in Manhattanville. Some may argue that Bloomberg's achievements have only improved NYC for the better, but others, including scholar Scott Larson, would take the opposite stance and argue that he has focused his efforts on the upper classes at the expense of the lower and middle classes.

How was Mayor Bloomberg able to foster developments targeted at the upper classes, create parks in adjacent areas, and pedestrianize streets in primarily tourist areas (among other significant accomplishments)? The answer, according to Larson, lies in the administration's championing of two historically oppositional forces: Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs. The influence of both on the city is undeniable: Moses modernized the city through the construction of parkways, parks, playgrounds, public housing, cultural centers, and much, much more; Jacobs embraced diversity, history, small blocks, and the human aspects of neighborhoods, in the process fighting off Moses as he tried to bulldoze highways through parts of Manhattan that are now cherished for their history, scale, and architecture.

Bloomberg and his compatriots (most notably City Planning Director Amanda Burden and Deputy Mayor of Economic Development Daniel Doctoroff) pushed a development agenda that embraced the large-scale, top-down projects of Moses as well as the small-scale, bottom-up qualities of Jacobs, what Burden called "building like Moses with Jacobs in mind." In this quote, Moses receives top billing, pointing to what is really going on: the administration imposed a particular view of the city on the public. Even PlaNYC, which was promoted as a plan developed with the public through community meetings in 2007, was basically completed as a plan before it was ever presented to the public; the meetings (one of which I attended) were basically informational, without any room for incorporating comments. So Moses represented a way of getting things done, while Jacobs was merely a way of softening the edges of various schemes—the public doesn't want a stadium in Hudson Yards? Add some public green space around it.

Larson brilliantly dissects Bloomberg's tenure as Mayor of New York (particularly the first two terms), focusing on how the administration used the prevailing legacies of Moses and Jacobs to get what they wanted done. (Bloomberg's successful repeal of terms limits to give himself more time to implement his objectives reiterates this strategy.) After some history on Moses and Jacob and the way they have come to represent oppositional means of planning, Larson discusses the mayor's large-scale plans (2012 Olympics bid, Hudson Yards, Atlantic Yards, and Columbia University in Manhattanville) relative to a synthesis of the two personalities. Next are analyses of the exhibitions and books that reappraised the legacy of Robert Moses (I wrote about those for NYFA Current in 2007), as well as reactions on the part of Jacobs advocates, like the Municipal Art Society. Outside of a chapter devoted to the Regional Plan Association's Region at Risk report from 1996 (an influential document for the Bloomberg administration), and one on the work of Moses and Jacobs outside of New York City, the rest of the book focuses on just how Bloomberg used the tactic of "building like Moses with Jacobs in mind." One focused on Burden and her means of rolling design into the agenda is of particular interest to architects and urban designers.

Considering how easy it can be to get carried along with the positive aspects of what has happened in the last dozen years (the last 5-6 years, really, if we focus on what the administration started and completed), it's good—no, imperative—to have critical voices like Larson questioning the motives of those in power. The parks and other public spaces that Bloomberg has spearheaded have given the public plenty to appreciate, but even the High Line became a means of rezoning a desirable area, making it even further out of reach for most of us. Accomplishments like these overshadow what Bloomberg hasn't done for those who cannot afford million-dollar condos. His legacy as Mayor of New York is hardly etched in stone, and this book raises a flag as to what that legacy should be, as well as to what his successor should really focus on.

US: Buy from Amazon.com CA: Buy from Amazon.ca UK: Buy from Amazon.co.uk

The Public Theater

The Public Theater in New York City by Ennead Architects, 2012.

Sometimes the smallest and most discrete of projects can have the greatest impact. Such is my take upon experiencing the new lobby for The Public Theater at Astor Place, and hearing the history of the building and project from Ennead Architects (formerly Polshek Partnership). The Public occupies the former Astor Library, which actually consists of three buildings constructed over the course of 30 years in the middle of the 19th century. The Byzantine landmark nevertheless appears as one entity, with bilateral symmetry about its taller middle section. Over the years the building changed from a library to a boarding house and then to a theater, when Joseph Papp persuaded the city to save the building from demolition in the 1960s. Small physical changes had large effects, especially the relegation of the library's exterior steps to the interior, a situation that made the lobby of The Public's five theaters less than ideal.

Easily the most important design decision in the transformation of the lobby and entry by Ennead Architects is the relocation of the steps from inside the building back to the sidewalk. This decision certainly complicated the process, as it brought the city's Department of Transportation into the picture, but the benefits to both The Public and the city outweigh any potential headaches or delays. First, ADA ramps were provided, a much better arrival than the handicap lift formerly by the front door. Second, the shallow and generous three-sided steps are a nice public amenity, accomplished by bumping out the curb in front of the steps. Third, the addition of a canopy over the stairs helps to give the institution a strong identity on Lafayette. Fourth is the fact that the exterior steps free up space in the lobby, something that gave the Ennead team, led by project designer Stephen Chu, design counsel James Polshek and management partner Duncan Hazard a bit more freedom in their lobby design.

Upon walking inside, the first impression is the fairly generous size of the space (not huge, but bigger than before). Yet the second impression is the most important: the space flows from the lobby in all directions—through the arched openings on the left and right, through the larger rectangular openings in the back wall, and up to the new mezzanine inserted above the ticket booth opposite the entry. Ennead's reworking of the circulation, in particular the fire stairs bordering the lobby, enabled them to provide access to the five theaters and Joe's Pub (formerly entered via an alley on the north side of the building) through the various openings of the lobby. Red and black text (done with Pentagram) is seemingly pressed into the white plaster, giving clear orientation from this central space.

Given the opening up of the lobby and the flow of space through the openings, it's not surprising that very little of the design is object-based; even the lighting is hidden above the beams where it highlights the coffers as it illuminates the space. The only objects inserted into the space are an elliptical bar, a chandelier above it, and the aforementioned mezzanine. The latter attracts attention through the red-glass guardrail, yet it fits with the general scheme of white, red, and black. The bar and light fixture, combined with the ticket booth behind as well as the openings on both sides, reinforce the symmetry of the building and the lobby. Most striking and dynamic is the Shakespeare Machine, the large light sculpture designed by Ben Rubin. Even as it anchors the center of the lobby with the bar, its swirling form and ever-changing readouts capture the motion of people in the space as they venture to and from shows. Yet the lobby and mezzanine are also places for lingering, something that would have been furthest from people's minds in its previous incarnation.

101 Spring Street

Art and architecture—all the arts—do not have to exist in isolation, as they do now. This fault is very much a key to the present society. Architecture is nearly gone, but it, art, all the arts, in fact all parts of society, have to be rejoined, and joined more than they have ever been. -Donald Judd, 1986

101 Spring Street in New York City by Architecture Research Office, 2013


[5th Floor, 2013. Photo Credit: Josh White. Donald Judd Art © Judd Foundation. Licensed by VAGA, New York Artwork © John Chamberlain. © Lucas Samaras. Dan Flavin © Stephen Flavin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Donald Judd FurnitureTM© Judd Foundation.]

In 1968, artist Donald Judd (1928-1994) purchased a 5-story cast iron building in SoHo for $68,000, subsequently moving his studio and his family there from further uptown. Constructed in 1870 by Nicholas Whyte, the impressive gray and glass building is located on the northeast corner of Spring and Mercer Streets. When Judd moved in, the area was an empty assemblage of industrial buildings that was on the cusp of the transformations (at first clandestine and later embraced by the city) that eventually helped turned SoHo into the pricey enclave it is today. That the Judd Foundation has been able to keep hold of the property (it's the only single-function building left in SoHo) and restore the building for public visits is both remarkable and necessary—now people can better appreciate Judd's work, his relationship to the city, and the evolution of New York City in the latter half of the 20th century.


[Exterior, 2013. Photo: John Hill.]

New York City's Architecture Research Office (ARO) is the project architect for the restoration, accompanied by a small fleet of architects and engineers. Most notable are Walter B. Melvin Architects, the exterior restoration architect, and Arup, the engineers responsible for MEP and fire protection. The latter's role is especially important, given how little space was available for mechanical and fire protection systems—ingenuity with space and technology allowed the systems to follow the mandate of the whole project: The structure and Judd's interventions should appear the same after the three-year restoration as they did before. In this sense, ARO's role would appear to be architectural sleight of hand, and to a certain degree that is true. But considering that for most people the building at 101 Spring Street was a place shrouded by scaffolding (installed in 2002 for safety), experiencing the building and its spaces will be a novel one where art and architecture merge.


[1st Floor, 2013 Photo Credit: Josh White. Image © Judd Foundation. Donald Judd Art © Judd Foundation. Licensed by VAGA, New York.]

Visiting the building, as I was able to do on a recent spring afternoon, one of the first impressions after taking in the crisp restoration of the cast iron is the mottled appearance of the glass, which looks to be anything but intentional. But intentional it is, with new glass replicating the unique visual texture that surrounded Judd when he lived and worked in the spaces. The first floor was initially Judd's studio, but he moved it to the third floor for more privacy. After the building opens to the public in June, the first floor will serve as an events space; a couple floors in the basement—lit by glass blocks in the sidewalk—serve as the Judd Foundation's offices. The first floor is anchored by a couple Judd pieces, a precarious-looking sculpture by Carl Andre, and a roll-top desk that Judd found in the building, restored, and used.


[2nd Floor, 2013 Photo Credit: Josh White. Image © Judd Foundation. Art © Ad Reinhardt. Donald Judd FurnitureTM© Judd Foundation.]

The second floor is the living space, most impressive for the Judd-designed kitchen that tucks itself partly under the stair and a sleeping loft. This floor feels domestic, yet as if it exists synergestically with the art and furnishings that occupy the large open space. The third floor is more museum-like, with art and some drafting instruments on display, but a similar domestic sensation continues on the fifth floor (the fourth floor was still being worked on at the time of my visit), where bedrooms, closets, and sleeping loft anchor the north end of the building, in a similar location to the kitchen downstairs. This floor also houses an enormous Dan Flavin light sculpture running the whole length of the floor, an element that makes a strong argument for uniting art, architecture, and life into one whole.


[2nd Floor, 2013 Photo Credit: Josh White. Image © Judd Foundation. Art © Ad Reinhardt. Donald Judd FurnitureTM© Judd Foundation.]

I have not visited Marfa, Donald Judd's well-known outpost in West Texas, but I'm guessing both places share the characteristic of control. This word (not used in a critical way) colors Judd's precisely machined forms and the importance of their placement within natural and artificial environments. Everything at 101 Spring Street, be it art by him or others or even domestic implements, is carefully positioned, following Judd's use of the building. This lends the space a feeling that is similar to other house-museums, such as much older ones in the city run by Parks and Rec and the Historic House Trust. But where those and other houses may use period furnishings (original and not) to convey a sense of the place and time, 101 Spring Street exhibits the lived-in experiment that Judd made of the building, an important distinction that stresses the importance of thinking about expression and the environment in which it happens.


[3rd Floor, 2013 Photo Credit: Josh White. Art © Larry Bell. Image © Judd Foundation.]


[5th Floor, 2013 Photo Credit: Josh White. Donald Judd Art © Judd Foundation. Licensed by VAGA, New York. Dan Flavin © Stephen Flavin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.]


[5th Floor, 2013 Photo Credit: Josh White. Donald Judd Art © Judd Foundation. Licensed by VAGA, New York. © Claes Oldenburg. © Lucas Samaras. Dan Flavin © Stephen Flavin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Donald Judd FurnitureTM© Judd Foundation.]


[2nd Floor, 2010 Photo Credit: Mauricio Alejo. Judd Foundation Archives. Image © Judd Foundation. Donald Judd FurnitureTM© Judd Foundation.]


[3rd Floor, 2003 Photo Credit: Rainer Judd. Judd Foundation Archives. Image/Art © Judd Foundation. Licensed by VAGA, New York.]


[4th Floor, 2010 Photo Credit: Mauricio Alejo. Judd Foundation Archives. Image © Judd Foundation. Flavin artwork © Stephen Flavin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Donald Judd FurnitureTM© Judd Foundation.]

Hidden Cities

Hidden Cities: Travels to the Secret Corners of the World's Great Metropolises; A Memoir of Urban Exploration by Moses Gates
Tarcher/Penguin, 2013
Paperback, 352 pages

The photographs that bookend the color insert in the middle of Moses Gates's "memoir of urban exploration" depict two views of a subway tunnel tagged respectively with "None of this matters..." and "...But it's very necessary!" These quotes, and in particular the first one, take on added resonance as Gates explores in the pages of this book what his venturing into restricted areas—in subway tunnels and sewers, atop bridges and tall buildings, into just about any urban space with a "Do Not Enter" sign—accomplishes. Does it really matter? There is no easy answer to such a broad question but the book is one such response, for it gives readers some insight into Gates's actions and thinking as he describes his adventures in New York and other "hidden cities" around the globe.

Reading about going places we're supposed to stay out of naturally spurs memories of similar undertakings. It reminds me of a trip to Rome during college when some friends and I climbed along a wall that led us into parts of the Palatine Hill that were—initially unbeknownst to us—off limits to the public; after all, the angled top to the wall looked so inviting. The fairly unexceptional rooms became that much more spectacular upon our realization that we were somewhere we shouldn't be. The hour or so spent away from crowds within the Roman ruins has stayed with me, perhaps stronger in my memory than the planned excursions that made up the majority of my travels in Rome and the rest of that trip to Italy. So in a tiny way I can understand the thrill that Gates describes in his book, one that took him much farther than his first few steps into a subway tunnel.

Compared to Gates's escapades (and occasional sexcapades) in New York City, Moscow, Paris, Buenos Aires, and even Rome, my single urban impropriety is laughable or even wimpy. So it is that at times this book is a joy to read, while at other times it can be riddled with anxiety. Obviously he lives to tell the story, but does he make it to the top of the Great Pyramid? Will he get arrested when the cops find him in that industrial building? These and other parts of the book create tangible emotional sensations that are parallel (if much, much smaller) to Gates's physical reactions to crossing the borders into restricted places. Perhaps readers should do as he does, and have a couple beers before diving in.

Since the book is a memoir it is full of experiences, many that readers will never have. But Gates also strives to find meaning in his actions and in the places where he is venturing, ergo the quotes in the subway. I'm wont to do the same with Hidden Cities because I appreciate the story Gates tells, and the way he tells it, but I also find the popularity of "urban exploration" (for lack of a better term) a bit off-putting—it's "ruin porn" (one strain of urban exploration but a good example here) is the urban equivalent of architecture's "shelter porn." Primarily I can't help but wonder if the actions of Gates and his compatriots (Steve Duncan is the one with the greatest presence in the book) are a form of architectural criticism. Is voyaging underground and atop buildings and other structures a necessary experience for some because the sanctioned spaces created by architects, planners, and cities are just plain boring? Do cities lack the ability to elicit emotionally tangible experiences? Should architecture strive for some civil disobedience?

Subways, sewers, bridges, rooftops, and other off-limits spaces are the (seemingly) necessary safety valves of cities like New York. But in some cities trams safely run at grade; solid waste can be treated on site; even a walkway atop of the Brooklyn Bridge was open to the public during its construction (mentioned in the book); and people can spend a few euros and walk to the top of the Duomo in Florence. In other words, there is more than one way to create cities; they can offer delights and thrills for people without the need for (so many) places of restriction. In this regard it's interesting to note a couple places where Moses does not tread: power stations and construction sites. These are places where danger is necessary and unpredictable. Venturing into those places would not have made me think that Gates is one of the most unlikely of architecture critics around, a "very necessary" thing indeed.

US: Buy from Amazon.com CA: Buy from Amazon.ca UK: Buy from Amazon.co.uk

Alexandre Arrechea: No Limits

No Limits in New York City by Alexandre Arrechea, 2013.

Since 2000 the Sculpture Committee of The Fund for Park Avenue and the Public Art Program of the City of New York’s Department of Parks & Recreation have collaborated with artists and arts organizations to install sculptures in the middle of Park Avenue. Since 2007 the exhibitions have occurred on a regular basis, twice a year. The first for 2013 is No Limits, featuring pieces by Cuban artist Alexandre Arrechea, who currently lives in Westchester County. Ten large sculptures extend from 54th to 67th Street. Each one is based on a famous building in Manhattan, many of them on or near Park Avenue.

On a Monday morning walk from 59th Street to Grand Central Terminal I was able to look at and photograph half of the sculptures. Easily the most striking of these is Sherry Netherland, seen in the first four photos. The actual building, a hotel, is located at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue overlooking Central Park. Arrechea curls the building in on itself, like a snake biting its tail or a circle that is cracked to reveal the decorative top. As with the other pieces, it's hard not to wonder what the deformation says about the building, but the playful forms can be appreciated without any intellectual investigation.

I believe the same way that a building is exposed to daily elements and changes - cold, heat, rain, fog - it is also exposed to constant changes in function - increases and decreases in market value, tenant use, and therefore purpose and social value. These persistent modifications are something I want to capture and embody in my work, creating a new model in constant negotiation with its surroundings. -Alexandre Arrechea

This quote by the artist gets to the heart of the transformations: What people usually think of as static—buildings—are actually flexible in various ways. Arrechea sculpts the scaled-down buildings in steel, a material that is seen as rigid and cold, but which is liquid and hot before its "final" formation. This choice makes perfect sense, and it lends the pieces a certain impossibility: How could a steel model of the Sherry Netherland curl like that? How does the Seagram Building get wound up like that?

Arrechea's statement about flexibility and change is fairly broad, but I think that each piece is making a statement about the particular building it references, be it about the form or something deeper. The Seagram is wound like a tape or hose as if to say that the stacked floors can be repeated almost endlessly; there is no vertical variation unlike the Sherry Netherland, for example. The Flatiron takes away the building's signature triangular plan and turns the facade into a flag or sign, a symbol of itself that borders on the two-dimensional. And if the artist's drawing at the end is any indication, both CitiGroup and Court House are kinetic; the former spins like an off-kilter top, suitable given the tower's asymmetrical top; and the latter's pendulum swing must be a metaphor for this country's legal system.

The sculptures are best seen from the sidewalks to the east and the west, as most of them are oriented to the sides. This means that views up and down the avenue from within the median are not as strong, but getting close to the pieces is also a treat; a close-up photo of Seagram shows some details not visible from afar. Many of the sculptures get lost against the backdrop of Park Avenue's skyscrapers, but I think as the trees bloom the art will stand out even more, lending some appreciation to the sculptures and the buildings they reference.

Grand Central: Gateway to a Million Lives

Grand Central: Gateway to a Million Lives by John Belle and Maxinne R. Leighton
W. W. Norton, 2012 (reissue)
Hardcover, 240 pages

On February 2 Grand Central Terminal celebrated its 100th birthday. The building looks a lot better than any people or other buildings from 1913, thanks to the restoration that was completed in 1998. For those who never saw the terminal before that year (like me), the building looks like what it must have been when it first opened. But the restoration—like any work of preservation—is equal parts creativity and cleaning. It removed the clutter that blocked windows, made spaces cramped, and otherwise detracted from the Beaux Arts architecture, but it also added elements and reconfigured others to give the terminal hopefully another 100 years of use.

This book—originally published in 2000 but recently reissued by W. W. Norton—is authored by John Belle, architect of the restoration (with Beyer Blinder Belle), and Maxinne R. Leighton, currently with Parson Brinckerhoff. Not surprisingly, the book devotes a good chunk to the restoration work and the documentation of its subsequent splendor. The book starts with the threats to Grand Central from the middle of last century, when even landmark status did not guarantee its protection. A Supreme Court ruling in 1978 in favor of the city's landmarking of the building owed much to Jackie O. and other celebrities that championed the cause in the decade after Penn Station was knocked down. Yet even though it was saved by the wrecking ball, the realities of the economy and train travel meant that advertising and other means of revenue reshaped people's experience of the main hall and other spaces. Such a situation survives to this day in the renting out of the original waiting room for events and pop-up stores, but at least those are temporary and can be avoided by using other entrances (and thankfully Apple's insertion into the main hall is fairly well done).

As valuable as the chapters on Grand Central's preservation and restoration are, the best ones tell the story of the terminal's coming into being. People may see the 100-year-old stone edifice and think that is everything, but the tracks, platforms and other infrastructure that the building serves extend well beyond its footprint, sitting under many of the buildings to the north. These buildings, Park Avenue, and Midtown east of 5th Avenue owe their existence to Grand Central, which was not the first train station on its site (it follows Grand Central Station and Depot) but is the most important, for it submerged the newly electrified rails to allow for building above them. The terminal acted like a magnet and attracted development, especially hotels and offices.

As Grand Central turns 100, its role in the "invention" of Midtown and the area's subsequent transformation is coming to the fore. Two events are underway that will reshape the area around the terminal: First is the LIRR East Side Access, which will deliver trains from Long Island to the east side of Midtown by 2016 (currently they end at Penn Station). Second is the city's proposed rezoning of Midtown East, which aims to boost development around Grand Central, particularly along Park Avenue to the north. These two undertakings illustrate how infrastructure and private development are linked; destroying Grand Central would have adversely affected the former (as the destruction of Penn Station did to the underground maze that New Yorkers inherited), but the days of either/or have given way to a symbiotic appreciation of urban complexity. While this book predates these newest developments, it gives a great background on Grand Central's solid foundations that make it an ideal hub for commuters and the ever-changing Midtown surrounding it.

US: Buy from Amazon.com CA: Buy from Amazon.ca UK: Buy from Amazon.co.uk

Parrish Art Museum

Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, New York, by Herzog & de Meuron, 2012.

One month after its November 2012 opening I drove out to Long Island to visit the Parrish Art Museum, also checking out the Houses at Sagaponac. Much of the modern architecture in the Hamptons, like the Houses at Sagaponac, is fairly hidden as residential enclaves or beach houses. On the other hand it's hard to miss the Parrish Art Museum, which overlooks the Montauk Highway, the area's main east-west thoroughfare. The institution was previously housed in a much smaller space in nearby Southampton, but at 615-feet (187 meters) long, the new building gives the museum a substantial presence, even as its fairly conservative form is inspired by the area's vernacular architecture.

The Parrish Art Museum is designed by Herzog & de Meuron, with local architect Douglas Moyer. The completed building was not their first approved scheme for the building. Initially they broke each gallery into a separate pavilion, loosely assembling them in a tight cluster on the large site. But a large budget and inadequate fundraising pointed to either shelving the project or paring it down. The latter happened when partner-in-charge Ascan Mergenthaler sketched what became the final design: a long building with all of the galleries and other functions under a twin-gable profile. Everything else, it could be argued, is in the details, and the Parrish offers much to be appreciated in this regard.

An ordered sequence of post, beam and truss defines the unifying backbone of the building. Its materialization is a direct expression of readily accessible building materials and local construction methods. -Herzog & de Meuron

By paring down the building to a simple linear volume, the project brings four main architectural elements to the fore: floor, wall, structure, and roof. In order, these elements can be described as a thin plinth upon which the building sits; a rough concrete enclosure that is smoothed at the benches where people interact with the building; exposed steel and wood diagonals that give a strong rhythm to the long building; and a lightweight yet large cover that is punctuated by skylights in the galleries. Inside, the experience is defined by all of these elements but the concrete walls, which are covered in the same white drywall that lines the central, double-loaded corridor. The white walls work with the wood, steel, and concrete to create spaces inspired by artists' studios, most apparent through the gable form and abundance of natural light in the galleries.

The long building is split roughly into thirds, from west to east: entrance (with gift shop, cafe, auditorium, restrooms, and terrace), galleries, and administration. This means that even though the central corridor appears very long, the full length of the building is only really grasped from within when under the eaves, where the aforementioned benches turn these circulation routes into places of rest. They also highlight the two sides of the site, the large field of grass fronting the building and the parking area at the rear. Like the building, this splitting of the site into three (field, building, parking) gives the overall project its structure and strong presence off the Montauk Highway—the building is at a slight angle to the road, so its length is accentuated, but so are its gable forms. The parking, it should be noted, is not an afterthought. With landscape architect Reed Hilderbrand, the parking is a beautiful and responsible design, incorporating bioswales that reduce stormwater runoff while echoing the line of the building. Traversing the bridges over these swales is the first direct experience with the project, clearly illustrating the consideration put into the whole.

Brooklyn Army Terminal

Brooklyn Army Terminal in Brooklyn, New York by Cass Gilbert, 1919.

This week's dose is a departure from the usual focus on contemporary architecture, instead featuring an early 20th-century building that I visited as part of the Open House New York (OHNY) weekend. What's now known as the Brooklyn Army Terminal was designed by Cass Gilbert as army warehouses during World War I. The two long buildings overlooking New York Harbor were completed six years after Gilbert's Woolworth Building, but the concrete buildings west of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, are a suitably sharp departure from the ornamentation of the famous tower overlooking City Hall Park.

Reaching the buildings is usually not an easy feat, but thankfully OHNY had arranged for ferries from Pier 11 near Wall Street. The 22-minute trip was a great lead-in to seeing the buildings, partly for the view of Building A from the water (photo at top-left) but also for glimpses of the borough's changing shoreline, from Brooklyn Bridge Park to the various parts of Red Hook: the shipping container terminal, the massive cruise ship docked nearby, and the unmistakable IKEA store further north. Likewise the Brooklyn Army Terminal has transformed itself into "the premiere location for tenants who are in the business of innovation."

The Terminal's Building A and Building B add up to a whopping 5 million square feet of usable space (construction time was an even more whopping year-and-a-half), but the OHNY visit was all about Building B. While they are both the same length (just shy of 1,000 feet, or 300 meters), Building B benefits from an atrium that runs down the middle from almost end to end. At the level of the loading dock are two railroad tracks separated by a walkway in the middle. Immediately beneath the roof's truss-work are tracks for a rolling crane positioned about halfway down the length of the space, above a concrete bridge that links both sides of the building at the third floor.

But it is the angled concrete balconies—upper-level loading docks, really—that steal the show. In form and arrangement they appear to be Gilbert's only flourish in the whole building, but they are wholly functional parts of the building, as much as the railroad below and crane above. Their angled arrangement allowed cargo from train cars below to be lifted to the various spaces above without interference; a stacked or checkerboard or some other arrangement would have made it difficult to lower cargo without conflicts above. Through the balconies Gilbert gave the immense space a fine texture that also makes its a very idiosyncratic building and the highlight of OHNY this year.

Artist Residence and Studio

Artist Residence and Studio in New York City by Caliper Studio, 2010.

In the late 1980s artist Roy Lichtenstein moved into a two-story warehouse that was converted to a residence and studio by 1100 Architect. Lichtenstein died in 1997, and the building, located across the street from Westbeth Artists Housing, is now occupied by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, a "private operating foundation [that] aspires to encourage a broader understanding of the art of Roy Lichtenstein and of the contemporary art and artists of his time." In 2007 the Estate of Roy Lichtenstein hired Caliper Studio for restoration and renovation work.

The most overt outcome of the process happens on the 6,000-sf (557-sm) roof, where "a quiet landscape of wall to wall sedum plants" now exists. The L-shaped roof is crowded in by buildings on three sides, but it does reach toward Washington Street on the west, in the direction of Westbeth (photo at right). People walking up and down the street can glance atop the one-story garage to get a glimpse of one of two large-scale Lichtenstein sculptures installed on the roof, in this case "Endless Drip."

"Brushstrokes" sits at a remove from the street, between a rebuilt penthouse office and new concrete shell skylights. A locust-wood deck snakes its way from the office to a rebuilt kitchen; the gray bricks of each volume stand out from the original building, marking these as new constructions. Further, Caliper Studio -- which is comprised of Caliper Architecture and Caliper Fabrication -- is responsible for much of the fabrication: skylights, canopy, trellis, planter, window frames and grates, railings. Their construction documentation is worth a look, particularly for the forming of the skylights.

Below the roof level, much of the work carried out was in keeping with the original conditions of Lichtenstein's studio and residence. According to the architects, "The quality of the space and its character have been maintained through original artifacts including the artist’s built-in wall easel system and paint splattered floor." This leaves the roof as the canvas, if you will, for the architects, who chose sedum as their primary medium, even as they crafted other pieces in wood, metal, and concrete. The roof landscape softens the space between the various buildings and gives Lichtenstsein's sculptures a contrasting background, something akin to a sculpture garden in the middle of the city.

Photographs are by Ty Cole, courtesy of Caliper Studio.